Lest you all think I just talk the talk, I wanted to share with you and example of how I walk it as well. Today I got an email from someone I had never heard of, with a return address of something obscure like “Betty@reachme.net,” which read, with no intro or anything, “What are your consulting rates?” There was no sig beyond the sender’s name–no way of easily knowing if this was a photographer, a phisher, or what and, more importantly, no way for me to pre-qualify this person as an appropriate client for my business. I replied with an email saying:
Before I send off that info, I’d like to know more about what you are looking for. It may very well be that we aren’t a good match or that you want something I don’t really offer. I am also uncomfortable sending pricing information without any idea of who you are and what you do. I don’t work with everyone who contacts me (for *many* reasons) and I could save us both time and effort by knowing, for example, that you shoot fashion exclusively (I almost never work with fashion-only shooters).
So please take a moment to let me know what you are hoping to get out of working with a consultant and then I can see how best to serve you or, if we’re not a good match, who I might suggest instead.
I received a reply that said, essentially, that the author was surprised by my bluntness but would “play along for a bit,” and then briefly described a photo business that could use some help and asked about working with reps. There was still no website provided and the fact that the author didn’t like my tone, well, that pretty much made it clear that this was probably not a good client for me. I replied with this email:
I’m sorry to have come across unpleasantly blunt–there was nothing personal about it, but I regret that it made you uncomfortable. I simply do not work with people I don’t think I can best help and so I can often save people (including me) time and energy by doing things like getting an idea of their needs and seeing their work (usually on their sites) on first contact. It is extremely unusual for someone to contact me without saying “I’m a photographer…here is my site” or at least having a professional-looking sig with contact info including a web address at the end of the email. When that doesn’t happen, I have concerns. Your email was, from the receiver’s end, rather fishy looking. No one before you has ever emailed me asking only “what are your rates;” rather, they begin a conversation, usually about their work and their needs, that ends with “I’d like to know more about how you work, your rates, etc.”
As I advise my clients, when a client’s first concern is cost, they are probably not a good client to work with. Clearly, your email rang that warning bell as well. I want the people who work with me to want to work with me–not to choose me because I’m cheaper than any of my colleagues out there. I do not compete on price. Ever. I respect my colleagues and my own business too much to do so.
There is also a need for a consultant and client to have a matching, comfortable, open communication style–that almost impossible-to-describe emotional connection. As you find my style blunt, I have concerns we won’t be a good fit–I am, most certainly, blunt and it is something my clients like about working with me. If you are not looking for blunt, working with me would not be good for you.
Regardless of my initial thoughts about working together, I would like to answer your rep question…sort of. To be clear, a photographer doesn’t “hire” a rep and can’t just go out and get one like buying a camera or hiring a designer. There are *many* more photographers who want reps than there are reps available. Getting a rep requires proving that you already are successful (billings above at least $150K or so a year is a start) and having a cohesive vision that the rep could market and sell to her/his clients. A good rep will use those tools (maybe even honing them in collaboration with you) and get your work seen by the right people, then negotiate good deals. A photographer’s work load often increases when s/he gets a rep–not only in shooting projects but in doing marketing-type things like producing mailers and better portfolios. A rep will not “do all the marketing stuff so you can shoot” as so many photographers think–you would still be doing loads of that. A good rep can make your business and a bad rep can kill it. Reps take a cut of fees and some do not do any production work. Each relationship is different and should be negotiated clearly in advance, and in a written contract, to ensure that all parties have a clear understanding of their roles and obligations.
I hope that helps and I wish you great success in your business. If you are still interested in working with me, please let me know and I will send you more info about how I work and pricing–but I will most certainly understand and respect your choice not to. As I said, it is very important for there to be a good fit between consultant and client and if it is not there you must, for YOUR business, seek out someone else who is a better fit. I recommend to all my potential clients that they speak with several consultants before choosing to work with anyone–and I pass on that same advice to you.
It is extremely unlikely that this potential client will still be interested in working with me and, even if so, I will need to see some signs of understanding and compatibility before I agree to it. Do I want to turn away work? No, of course not–in the general sense. Who wants to not make money today? But as I have so often said here on this blog and in my lectures and writings, saying “no” is often the right thing to do for your business. If I said “yes” to this client as things now stand, it would be a very difficult relationship and one which I doubt I could do my best work in. To do otherwise compromises two of my business’ core ethics (only do work to be proud of; and only work with people who respect me and my skills as much as I respect them and theirs).
By saying “I respect my business and me enough to stick to my ethics even if it means not getting a client today” I will feel better about me, my business, and I can take the time and energy I would have wasted on a difficult client and put it to someone who wants to work together for a better future. You can’t put a price on that.